Interview by Yury Kotikov with Aman Goel, founder of Elements, MIM alumni of 2012
Can you tell us a bit about your project? What “Elements” is doing and what is your role in the project?
“Elements is a pioneering social impact venture symbiotically connecting rural craftsmen and mainstream corporates by providing uniquely positioned craft-based-contemporary-corporate-gifting-solutions. Our mission is to bring sustainable livelihood and recognition to the talented yet sidelined rural craftsmen and in the process create a MADE IN INDIA gifting brand.
I was the founder of Elements. My first responsibility was to build the team of 4 individuals with solid academic and professional background in sales, marketing and operations. My next task was to give strategic direction to the business in terms defining our target producer and market segments. Later on, I helped the team to develop and refine our marketing material. Currently, I am responsible for raising funds for the company and developing its reach and business in international markets.”
How did the idea of Elements come to you? What was your brainstorming process like?
“I conceived the idea of Elements in 2011 with a colleague at work, Gagandeep, now a co-founder of Elements, when we were given the responsibility of finding corporate gifts for an international partner visiting our employer. While searching for the right vendor we realized that India-specific gifts like Ganesha idols were imported from China due to a huge scarcity of traditional gifts in the market. Furthermore, finding unique and exclusive gifts was very difficult as the industry was being dominated by small regional vendors who had limited design innovation and service capabilities.
Upon identifying this gap, we started to look for artisans in northern India by ourselves. We were surprised to see the plight of extremely talented artisans who were unable to reach the mainstream markets due to lack of understanding of the modern customer taste and marketing capabilities. Additionally, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) undertaken by corporations is mostly charity based and we believed in a more symbiotic approach for CSR to be effective and sustainable. We thought – why can’t we be a CSR vehicle/channel alongside gifting? This is when we decided to start a venture that can bridge these gaps.”
Is the competition tough for you? Probably, there are a lot of companies in the corporate gifting solutions in India. What is your current positioning strategy? Do you differentiate Elements from competitors?
“The competition is tough from the price point of view. We always knew that competing with industry scale production, both from India and China, will be a daunting task. This is why we try to focus on product differentiation through embedding of rare craft forms in our products and customizing them to exactly meet our clients’ requirements. We also increase the perceived value of our products by building a strong story of arts and artisans employed in production of the product. With art in background & story in place, perceived value & intent of gifts are augmented. For example, when we got an opportunity to serve a German beer brand in India, we created a gift depicting fusion of Indo-German cultures through a statue of Bavaria hand painted in Rajasthani style on a marble plate. The statue representing glory and style was appreciated for the customization and social value of the product and well served the purpose of a gifting brand-wagon.”
Did you manage to use any IE resources to get the support for your project? What were the biggest challenges where you started?
“The first and the biggest challenge for the business was deciding if it was worth quitting our jobs and work on it full time. This dilemma was greatly solved when I submitted the business idea in IE Global Entrepreneurship Challenge where it was awarded the first prize and I was offered the scholarship to pursue MIM at IE (Feb 2012). At the next opportunity at IE, I pitched this idea in the Net Impact weekend where it was again awarded a prize while we were given solid mentorship in terms of defining our market entry strategy. This later served as the guide for us when we actually started the business in late 2012. I am sure that friends from my class would recall Elements being at the core of almost all my individual and group assignments. By doing so, I was able to showcase my idea to a variety of expert professors and take their feedback on our future direction.”
Speaking about IE – what was the most useful thing you learn at IE? Did IE experience play the decisive role in your choice to become and entrepreneur?
“MIM at IE was one of the most enriching year of my life where I learned to have a 360 degree view of a business from finance to marketing to operations which, in my view, is a pre-requisite to establish a successful venture. But also beyond this, IE has been at the cornerstone of Elements’ development by connecting me with experienced and like-minded people who continue to support our vision. Three people who deserve a mention here are my batchmate Gustavo, marketing professor Antonios Stamatogiannakis and Venture Lab mentor Jose Luis Lopez Gallego.
Gustavo is a guy with keen interest in entrepreneurship and was always available for a brainstorming discussion about Elements. With Gustavo, I participated in the net impact weekend and Venture Lab and later on developed a case study on Elements titled “Building entrepreneurial marketing strategies in India” under the guidance of Antonios, who is currently an advisor to the business providing regular feedback on our marketing efforts. He also published a blog post about Elements.
Jose Luis Lopez Gallego was my mentor at the Venture Lab. Jose has been a great source of guidance and inspiration for the business and continues to support our international business development efforts providing business leads and contacts. He was also a great help in developing our e-commerce portal www.elementsmart.com.”
How is the funding process going for Elements? Did you obtain any from business-angel or did you invest your own capital?
“So far, we have invested over 1,500,000 INR (25,000 USD) in cash and kind from our savings and borrowings from friends and family. This has been a conscious decision as we were still in the process of demonstrating a proof of our concept. With active sales and sales leads, we are now beginning to look for external funding. We recently had the opportunity of presenting ourselves at a major social entrepreneurship forum in India. Since then, we have engaged with 3 investors, with whom are in different stages of due diligence.”
Can you share with us some of your most memorable IE experiences? Academic, extracurricular or just something from the life in Madrid?
“Everything from meeting an extremely diverse class of high performance individuals to professors who brought great wealth of knowledge and expertise was exceptional. Madrid as a city was inspiring and the warmth of people, despite me not knowing Spanish, was overwhelming.
In particular, meeting great friends and working with them on group assignments until 3 am, learning some flamenco guitar and having the opportunity to do a part of Santiago de Compostela are some things I can never forget about my IE and Spanish experience.”
Finally, what would be your best advice to those current MIM students thinking about starting their own business?
“I answer this one with caution as we are barely a success story yet to be giving advice to people. Nevertheless, my suggestion to all MIM students in general would be to make the most of this IE experience by giving your 100%, both on personal and professional fronts. There is so much happening at IE and the more you participate, the more you learn. For the ones willing to start your own business, you must make sure that you have the right reason for starting the business or you will get bored too soon, as the success almost always will take quite some time. Also, important is to enter into a business with sound economic logic and build a committed team with relevant professional experience. All said and done: logic, belief and labor are your only controls.With these inputs, you are good to go.
If interested, you can check out our ELEMENTS BLOG where we share our experiences and learning of being an entrepreneur.”
Ending with a motivational quote for the believers and go-getters:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
A word about the team @ Elements
“I can say with a lot of confidence that Elements’ greatest strength is its team. Mahendra, Gagan and Krishna are all from my engineering college, IIT Roorke, which is regarded as a premiere engineering institute in India. All three of them were my friends but did not know each other very well. I knew that these three had a strong drive for building something of their own and doing something for the country. This is why they all decided to quit their well paid corporate jobs and jump into, what sometimes seems like an extremely thankless job, the field of social entrepreneurship. If it wasn’t for their drive, we would have never been able to start this business and take it this far.”
Official Website of Elements – http://elementsmart.com
Elements on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/elementsmart
Elements Blog – http://elementsmart.tumblr.com/